The World of Team Fortress 2 Fashion

Throughout history, men have worn hats as a way of showing how much better they are than other men. “I buy hats,” a behatted man seems to say. “I am better than you.”

In wartime, hats were a useful way of conferring rank, and ensuring that casualties were confined to the lower classes (hence the famous command of “Don’t fire till you see the tops of their heads” at the Battle of Bunker Hill by William Prescott, a general renowned for only shooting enemy combatants who were poor). During peacetime, hats have been instrumental for men to let the non-hatted know just who is wearing the hat around here.

— Classless Update

If you were one of the many people who played Valve’s Team Fortress 2 in the first couple of years of release, all of the classes looked like this:

tf2_1_lgPlain, simple, easy to identify from a distance. That was Valve’s philosophy when designing each individual class. More than anything they had to be discernible by their silhouettes from a distance.

Of course now if you play Team Fortress 2 (TF 2), the classes you see might look a bit like this:

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All Hail Duck Pyro’s “Heavy”

Or… Maybe like this:

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FTL Vclox’s “Pyro”

Since the addition of hats back in 2009, Team Fortress has become an entirely different animal in terms of presentation. The images above are but a sample of the crazy combinations that are out there. There are currently over a thousand different cosmetic items, and that’s not even taking into account the items that Valve has since retired.

There was an initial blow back to the idea of “hats” and what they might do to TF 2. But over time the community has more or less come to embrace them. There’s an insane economy behind the cosmetic store of Team Fortress 2. But that’s a story for another time. Instead we’re here to talk about the insane kind of costumes you might see out in the wild and what drives players to create them.

Most people use the term “load out” to describe their outfits. That’s because the cosmetic items are lumped in with the actual combat items that each class uses. So all in all its in the same “load out” menu. To make life easy, we’ll refer to them as outfits or costumes.

I think it’s best we start at the beginning. How exactly did most people get into TF 2 in the first place? Well for many it started when the game went free to play on June 23, 2011. EroticCornetto joined TF 2 “Just before Halloween 2012” and has his friends to thank for bringing him into the mix. “[I was] chatting with a few friends who played it before i did. I recently got a new laptop that was half decent, so I installed it and really got into it!” For them, the idea of the cosmetic marketplace was a challenge. They became an avid trader, and came to own a great deal of the items offered. Due to that, they’ve managed to find “…some sets that I really enjoy the look of.”

EroticCornetto's "Soldier"
EroticCornetto’s “Soldier”

For many players, the idea for costumes came from other SFM – Source Filmmaker – movies. This is the same tool that Valve uses to make their character centric shorts such as Meet the Spy (featured below this paragraph). So naturally there’s a community of very talented people who put together some amazing videos. For FTL Vclox, they were a source of inspiration. “Well the first load out is taken from a SFM movie called Once Upon a 2fort” which to this day is my favorite.”

(I tried to feature the image of the costume, but no matter what I do, it comes out corrupted…)

While some players enjoy creating their outfits personally, there are some who enjoy working with the community in order to workshop the best possible look. Many of those players reside at the TF 2 Fashion Advice subreddit, which is where I found most of the players I interviewed. According to All Hail Duck Pyro “[I] can’t think of a single other game that has such a great community like TF2.” And has someone who has played the game since its initial release in 2007, I can attest that the community is better than most you’ll find in a free to play game.

One question I asked a lot of the players I interviewed was what about each costume represents about them. For most people – especially the ones with the crazier ideas – it’s about the uniqueness. FTL Vclox’s answer was simple and to the point. “I think it represents me in how i enjoy be unique and crazy.” That’s where the crazier ones come in.

Looking at the Pyro that FTL created, you’ll see that he’s right. In fact, this fun little look is the work of a glitch. It combines two different head items, and normally the yellow helmet is supposed to cover the whole face. But the eyes glitch through, creating that utterly insane look that compliments the class so well.

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FTL Vclox’s “Pyro”

From most of the players I talked to, they prepare these costumes for their own amusement. It’s not really about getting a bunch of feedback of attention from other players. Though occasionally one of them gets a comment that sticks with them. For many, it’s just a question of where those items came from. How did they pull off that particular combination? Is it a glitch? That sort of thing. But for All Hail Duck Pyro, the one comment he remembers best is “I think I just threw up a little in my mouth.”

All Hail Duck Pyro's "Pyro"
All Hail Duck Pyro’s “Pyro”

Yup. That’s a thing.

Overall the world of fashion in Team Fortress 2 is a vast one. Between the thousands of items offered in-game there are even more possible combinations. A couple of more examples come from Sir Bradley. You’ll see a similar look with his Pyro (a popular one at the moment) and FTL Vclox’s Pyro. Note though, the symmetry of items used in his Sniper set. There’s no craziness going on there, just something that fits the character more than anything else.

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Sir Bradley’s “Sniper”
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Sir Bradley’s “Pyro”

If you’re interesting in exploring the world of Team Fortress 2 fashion further, the threads down at /r/tf2fasionadvice will give you more than you could ever ask for in that area. The rabbit hole is deep, but it’s worth exploring because the creativity expressed with such simple boundaries is immense. Not only that, but it helps add on a bit more fun to the experience of TF 2.

So if you ever run across a Pyro with a duck bill and an alien looking head, or a Heavy with a skull face and fire coming out of his eyes, you’ll know that a bit more than just “hey that looks cool” went into creating that hilarious – or possibly intimidating – look on the battlefield.

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